Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Jimmy Savile never went out of fashion. Then again he was never in fashion. Best known for his generation defining kids TV show Jim’ll Fix It, Sir Jimmy OBE was also an honorary Royal Marine Green Beret, Knight Commander of Saint Gregory the Great, LLD, honorary fellow of the Royal College of Radiologists, Knight of Malta and Freeman of the Borough of Scarborough. His death in October last year removed from the scene a man at once weird, wonderful and hugely elusive.
Garry Roost’s portrait is framed by the two facets which make Sir Jimmy such a fascinating character study. Firstly there is the grim, unrelenting determination of a hard-up Yorkshire lad determined to make good. Secondly we catch glimpses of the formidable business brain ever vigilant to protect the persona which reflected and masked the man beneath in equal measures. It is a regular lament of ours that public figures such as Jimmy Saville, Victoria Beckham and Katie Price never reveal the iron girders buttressing their enduring appeal. Love them or loathe them such celebrities possess considerable talent in terms of remaining in the public eye. If some have criticised Roost’s apparent invasion of a carefully guarded privacy others will applaud an early posthumous biography which may well help to establish and embellish the cult to Saville’s heroic philanthropy.
The set is a nod towards the unrestrained kitsch that was Sir Jimmy’s signature. There is the familiar red Jim’ll Fix It chair (the original of which sold for £8,500 at auction last month). Saville’s beloved succession of Rolls Royce automobiles are represented by a static exercise bike. Roost fills the stage with a large-than-life performance that is accurate without being impressionistic. Think Michael Sheen not Rory Bremner. We are taken milestone by milestone as Saville climbs his way to the top, like Steerpike dragging himself out of the kitchens of Gormenghast. We encounter Saville’s surprising bevy of glamorous beauties as well as the only woman whom he ever truly loved, his mother. We see the Bevin Boy who became a man about town. We see the friendly figure off the telly to whom thousands of children confided their fears and terrors as well their dreams.
A carefully choreographed charge builds throughout the production. At first this is disquieting. However, when in the couple of moments Roost lets the mask slip it is unleashed and we have a sense of the nuclear reactor needed to power Saville’s shield against Fleet Street’s efforts to destroy his reputation. The moment touching on the famous Louis Theroux interview raises this show to something much more than piazza caricaturist’s sketch.
Roost has had a job on his hands to convince theatre goers that either his subject or his portrait are worthy of gallery space. He has succeeded. How’s About That Then? is a superb drama, brilliantly crafted. Just as Saville made Blighty brighter, this Fringe has been better thanks to this close yet loving study of Sir Jimmy.